Are U.S. Imports Really Shifting From West Coast to East Coast?

Are U.S. Imports Really Shifting From West Coast to East Coast?

The supply chain crisis has been part of American life since the COVID-19 pandemic first swept across the country in early 2020. Stuck at home, consumers leaned on ecommerce to get the products they needed.

As online orders spiked, the U.S.’s West Coast ports essential to trade with Asia started to back up with dozens of ships waiting to offload their freight. Space to store newly unloaded containers quickly ran out in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland and other West Coast gateways.

And even the railways that serve as a conduit between ports and inland transit hubs started to back up, too.

Two years after the onset of COVID-19, America’s busy West Coast ports are still experiencing issues — and cargo owners have started taking action. For example:

  1. 3M has announced it will shift its Asian shipping to Charleston to avoid congestion and labor strife at West Coast ports.
  2. Walnut growers in California are actively seeking alternatives to exporting via Oakland, which has become unreliable in recent months.
  3. Some East Coast ports (like Savannah) are experiencing record-setting volume while some West Coast ports (like Los Angeles) are starting to see a downturn in imports.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that importers are flocking to ports on the East Coast and Gulf Coast to avoid the challenging ocean freight environment on the West Coast. But how soon will the shift from West to East Coast become apparent?

According to data from September, we’re already starting to see a growing disparity in East Coast vs. West Coast imports as compared to January through August of 2022.

East Coast Imports Surge Ahead of the West Coast

Data collected by Vizion indicates that imports did shift significantly from the West Coast to the East Coast in September.

During the month, East Coast ports handled 28.77% more imports (as measured in TEUs) than West Coast ports. The East Coast has outpaced the West Coast every month in 2022, but the disparity started to grow last month.

The East Coast handled 20.34% more imports than the West Coast in June 2022, which was the largest gap between January and August of this year. The East Coast handled only 10.34% more imports than the West Coast in May 2022, which is the smallest gap so far this year.

The East Coast’s 28.77% advantage in September is the largest disparity between the two Coasts so far this year by more than 7%.

This data does not include Gulf Coast ports, which include Houston, Mobile and others.

Will the West-to-East-Coast Trend Continue?

In August, the National Retail Federation (NRF) lowered its outlook for import volumes in late 2022 as compared to the same months in 2021. Additionally, the NRF warned that the “decline is expected to deepen in 2023.”

If the pace of imports to the U.S. slows down, might that help decongest West Coast ports and make them viable for cargo owners that are shifting to East Coast alternatives? This peak season and the early months of 2023 will be informative as to whether this trend will continue long-term or not.

Gain Visibility Across Your Supply Chain

After years of disruptions and supply chain challenges, shippers and cargo owners are looking to bring a higher level of predictability to their logistics operations. 

At Vizion, we offer a container tracking API that connects complete, standardized and detailed container tracking information to your TMS, ERP or other software system. Use Vizion to:

  1. Get timely ETA updates.
  2. Enhance customer experiences.
  3. Reduce detention and demurrage fees.
Start tracking now.

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